“Guess there’s a little Slim Shady in all of us.” — Eminem
Okay, I’ll admit it, sports fans. Rap and hip-hop music sound about as good to me as a shattered glass enema. I graduated high school in 1978 and grew up with an eight-track in the Pinto that I stuffed with Bob Seger, Joe Walsh, and Ted Nugent’s Double Live Gonzo. Look, pal, I don’t know if the real Slim Shady ever stood up or not, but I can tell you this: havin’ a first name you hate so much that you gotta change it to Eminem is tragic. (And, oh, by the way, that whole melts-in-your-mouth-and-not-in-your-hands thing is a load of crap. Holding a handful of those babies for more than, like, two minutes at Wrigley in August will make you stickier than Bill Clinton at a White House intern orientation.)
Which brings me to the point of today’s lesson, Cubs lovers. Take a knee.
In addition to being hard rock axe men who paved the musical way in my hay day, Seger, Walsh and Nugent have something else in common: they all have real, honest, hard first names. Hey, if the name on my birth certificate was Marshall Mathers, I might have a sweet candy alias too. But it’s not. I’m Joe. Joe Schlombowski. And names — front or back — don’t get much harder than that, my friend.
See, you got hard names and you got soft names. Hard names are bestowed on the fortunate sons of men who ignored their wives’ pleas to taint their new bundle of joy with a sensitive ringtone. Hard names, like Bob and Joe and Ted, and like Alex and George and Dan and Mike and Hank, are coughed off the tongue, dripping with masculinity and other admirable character traits. Like John Cusack said in The Sure Thing, “Nick’s the kind of guy you can trust, the kind of guy you can drink a beer with, the kind of guy who doesn’t mind if you puke in his car.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Of course, John — uh, yeah, that’s a hard name — is a devoted Cubs fan who’s been known to lead the Wrigley Faithful in Take Me Out to the Ballgame.
Soft names, on the other mitt, reek of maternal coddling. Avery, Ashton, Todd, Caleb, Joshua — all of them conjure up the image of a friggin’ fat kid with a notoriously soft Justin Bieber haircut whose only playing Little League so his overbearing, Boeing Apache mother can bring him a lemon Gatorade and Fruit Snacks in the dugout every other inning. I mean, have you ever heard a coach yell, “Goddammit, get in front of the friggin’ ball, Jasper!” without makin’ Jasper cry? Of course, not! Coach has no time for a kid with a soft name; he wants a dirty, tobacco-chewin’, fist-fighting animal named Rusty who drinks from a muddy water hose only after the game’s over.
The Cubs have a roster chock full of hard first names. Anthony, Ben, John, Joe, Danny: hard, hard, hard, hard, hard. And Jake? Like a ten-peckered billy goat, pallie.
Still, there’s cause for concern.
I’m sorry, was it Jesus Krist? Me thinks not. Stop making shit up! Spell it with a C-H as the good Lord intended, and you firm up immediately. Hell, you might hit a hundred homers!
Please. Using your full first name when it’s got a perfectly good abbreviation is a play made by guys who work at Nordstrom’s makeup counter. You may have been Jonathan at home when you forgot to pick up your marbles, but on the field you’re John — JOHN! with a friggin’ H!
Uh, got a nickname, kid? Like Spike, maybe? Use it. And have your driver’s license reflect the change. By far the softest name on the club.
And then there’s … Theo.
Theo? You guessed it, pal. Softer than Elton John’s bed sheets. An eephus pitch with a little extra taken off. And so close, too, because “Ted” is an unquestionably hard name — one given to some real bad asses, like the aforementioned Motor City Madman, whose guitar is so loud he can knock the balls off a charging rhino at sixty paces (did I mention the Double Live Gonzo album?). Tragically, somebody — perhaps his mother or some spoiled Harvard frat buddy called Skip or Thad or Corbin — somebody thought “Ted” wasn’t cute enough. They got that right, sports fans. “Theo” reminds me of the cotton candy I see meltin’ in the cheap seats. Hey, don’t get me wrong. Your name could be Alice and if you got me to the World Series I’d take a bullet for you. So far, the calls Theo’s made have been remarkably strong and the Cubs have sat on top of the baseball world all season. But I’ll be honest with you, sports fans, I’m about as comfortable as Robin Ventura at a Ryan Family reunion.
Early this season, the Cubs and the White Sox got out of the gates hot, and it looked like we were headed to the Windy City War this fall. But the Sox, slapdicks that they are, folded like a used condom and are now struggling to stay above .500. Meanwhile, the Cubs marched on to a 12 ½ game lead over the Cards by June 18. Since then, however, a few things have happened: First, we lost four in a row — twice — before losing five in a row. Uh, enough said. Second, Jake’s ERA in July was 5.55, which on paper means the Cubs need to score six runs to win when their best guy is on the bump. That’s askin’ a lot of any team hitting in the Majors today, even the 2016 Cubs. By the All-Star Break, we were still in first place, but the Rangers, Nationals, and — God, I hate saying this — the friggin’ Giants all had more wins than we did. Worst of all, we had won just twice in our last ten games, and the Cardinals were only seven games back. Now they’re just 6 ½ back — well within striking range — with 59 games left to play.
No habla espanol, but with a 104 MPH heater, I’m thinkin’ Aroldis Chapman has a hard first name. Provided Theo’s latest acquisition punches out more opposing hitters than he does the women in his life the Cubs should be headed to the playoffs, where having led bell-to-bell will mean zippo, my friend.
But I digress.
Mama’s, you don’t have to let your babies grow up to be cowboys. But if they do end up riding a ranked bull someday, they’ll have a better chance of hangin’ on for eight seconds if they can say their first name without makin’ themselves sound like, well, a Harvard frat boy.